This post is the result of my philosophical reflections on an important, even sacred for marketers, topic and an existential question: how do cookies work? I decided to explore the secrets of the mechanisms cookies operation and translate them into simple language, so that this knowledge would be more and more common and more accessible to everyone interested in the world. I cordially invite you to read!

What are cookies?

Cookies are pieces of information sent by the server and transferred to the browser. They allow you to encrypt a range of information that is securely read by the website. Importantly, cookies also allow you to store passwords on a given page, send a form with data, and remember the settings of a specific session.

How do cookies work?

A cookie contains a unique session number that identifies a specific user. The important thing is that this information can be absolutely incomprehensible to a human and may contain a series of random characters, numbers, or digits. Such a number is stored in the server and contains information about a given session.

For example, thanks to this mechanism, we are able to check-in Google Analitycs which browsers our users are using. Another example is logging in with a password because it is the key by which we are associated as specific users. Usually, for the server to associate us with a given session, it is enough to enter the password only once. This, in turn, allows you to create a user ID for customers – in this case, it already contains personal data and allows you to catalog sales per user.

The cookie is assigned to a specific session and sends information to the server. After the end of the session, each time the user accesses a specific URL, the cookie will allow the identification of the visit.

How long can cookies be stored?

According to Polish law, everything that contains user-sensitive data may be stored for a maximum of 12 months. However, it is difficult to judge whether session cookies meet this definition. Google Analytics is able to store cookies for up to 540 days unless the user clears them manually. In practice, cookies do not have an expiry date and remain in the browser until they are deleted.

Can cookies be dangerous?

The vast majority of cookies do not constitute a threat in themselves. Cookies were created to improve the operation of the website and to remember information about the session, shortening the loading time.

As is usually the case on the Internet, the greatest threat is the human factor. While the cookie technology itself cannot do any harm, intercepting data from cookies and using them improperly can. 

How to protect yourself from a potential threat?

  • regularly clear cookies in your browser
  • use incognito mode
  • do not automatically save passwords in a browser
  • use an antivirus program regularly
  • install a VPN
  • use more than one browser

This post has an educational purpose and I do not intend to discourage obsessive opting out of cookies. The most important factor is to be aware of what we agree to, so I encourage you to read the information provided before accepting the cookie file. The internet is changing right before our eyes, and data privacy and awareness will play an increasingly important role.

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